December jobs report: Here's what to expect on Friday

The U.S. economy is expected to have added 177,000 jobs in December, signaling that the labor market remains robust and the economy strong.

The Department of Labor will release payroll data early Friday morning – its final one for 2018 – which will offer an in-depth evaluation of the labor market, including job additions, unemployment rate, wage growth and labor participation rate.

In November, the unemployment rate remained at 3.7 percent, the lowest rate in nearly 50 years – and most analysts expect that number to remain steady in December. The economy, meanwhile, added a paltry 155,000 jobs, missing analysts’ expectations.

Although November was a weaker-than-expected number, experts portrayed the data as another good report, particularly regarding wage growth. It was the 98th-straight month of gains (over the past year, the economy has gained an average of 209,000 jobs per month).

Investors will also closely be watching wage growth -- which climbed slightly in November -- for potential signs of inflation. Last month, average hourly earnings rose by 6 cents to $27.35. Over the year, average hourly earnings have increased by a total of 81 cents, or about 3.1 percent.

Average hourly earnings are expected to rise 3 percent from the year-ago period, according to analysts surveyed by Refinitiv (formerly Thomson Reuters).

“The participation rate of 62.9 percent suggests that people on the sidelines are not sufficiently attracted by the level of wages to enter the job market,” said Tendayi Kapfidze, the chief economist at Lending Tree.